Hornblower and the Hotspur is just the sort of book to inspire youngsters to want to do the right thing. The temptations of doing the wrong thing, of looking the other way, or of chasing the golden fleece are all present. You see Commander Hornblower dealing with these temptations, and enjoying the rewards and pains of pursuing the right course. Also, he is often rewarded for taking the time to do his homework (such as his never-ending charting of the coastal inlets in Brittany). Few modern novels create some upright and forthright heroes for young people to model themselves after.
Older fans of C.S. Forester and the Hornblower series will also be rewarded by the fascinating details of how a small sloop can successfully challenge all comers! If you are a sailor or have some interest in the subject, you will be richly rewarded by the many fine details that Mr. Forester provides about the special challenges of storms, the European coast, and running a long-term blockade of Europe after the Peace of Amiens breaks down in 1803.
Those who have been waiting for Hornblower to "get a life" will be pleased to see that his attachments to shore, family, and to those nearest to him increase greatly in this book. As a result, he has to think about the consequences more carefully as he faces death . . . and what will happen to others if he fails.
In a fascinating series of "almost asides" Hornblower has great problems with his personal servants in this novel. These scenes help establish Hornblower's lack of priority for personal comfort, and the vulnerability that can be created for you if those close to you fail to do their duties.
To me, the most rewarding part of the book came in the many sections that explored what it means to be courageous. Hornblower certainly doesn't see himself that way. In fact, in some cases he merely sees himself as having noticed the problem and having acted faster than others. In other cases, his physical weaknesses (including a propensity to seasickness) make his duty difficult. He gives himself no credit for soldiering on under the circumstances, but rather feels inferior for his vulnerability. An unfortunate incident leaves him in a quandary about whether to do his duty "by the book" or to deal with the situation with compassion. The message seems to be that courage is overcoming your obstacles and limitations, regardless of the price, but is not something that one should rejoice in. The term "stiff upper lip" kept coming to mind as I read this novel.
The ultimate appeal of Hornblower is that he is a slightly brighter, more determined version of "everyone" out there who ever wanted to do the right thing, make a way in the world, and build a rewarding life. His weaknesses, foibles, and doubts simply serve to make his concerns and himself real to all of us who read about him . . . and secretly yearn to keep the French bottled up in Brest by our outstanding seamanship.
If the Star Trek holodecks were really available, I'd like to create a program to be Hornblower on the Hotspur (as long as I didn't have to suffer too much from seasickness). I would certainly want to have the trustworthy Mr. Bush (from the novel) along side me.
After you finish the book, I suggest that you think of Hornblower's experiences as a metaphor for making the right choices in a career and personal life. What challenges have you found that are similar to those that Hornblower dealt with in this book? How do you think that Hornblower would have responded to these challenges? What can you learn from these "thought experiments" that could help you in the future?
When choosing among life's routes, be sure to consider the stern, rocky paths for the rewarding challenges they provide!